PREGAME REPORT | APRIL 7, 2013
Tipoff: 12:30 p.m. PST | STAPLES Center | Los Angeles, CA | Game Notes »
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LOS ANGELES – No Clippers-Lakers matchup has ever looked like this.
The Clippers (50-26) are on the precipice of their first division title, are fighting for a top three seed in the Western Conference playoffs and are seeking their first season-series sweep of the Lakers since 1974-75 when they were five years removed from entering the league as an expansion team and played in Buffalo.
The Lakers (40-36), on the other hand, are chasing the No. 8 seed in the West, needing to knock off the Clippers to remain a game ahead in the loss column ahead of the Utah Jazz.
“[The implications] will magnify it and intensify it for sure, more than even the Clippers versus Lakers thing,” Jamal Crawford said after Saturday’s practice. “I remember in the preseason, I don’t think I played in the game but just pulling up I saw all the energy outside of the building. With us fighting for position, I think it should be a fun game.”
When the city mates meet Sunday afternoon on ABC, it will be the fourth of four matchups between the two this season and arguably the first time in the history of the series in which so much has been riding on the game this late in the season.
“We’ve got to handle the level of the game and what’s at risk for everybody,” Clippers head coach Vinny Del Negro said.
Of course, one of the most interesting factors is the Clippers’ chance to win the Pacific Division and do so against the team that’s had a stranglehold on it for much of the last three decades.
“I think that would be pretty cool,” Crawford said of the chance to sweep the Lakers. “The Lakers have been so dominant for so long. We’re trying to make our mark now. They have a huge history, of course, and we’re trying to make our own history.”
Matt Barnes, who spent the past two seasons with the Lakers before signing with the Clippers in August, added, “I think the most important thing is we’re starting to play better. Obviously, a chance at a division championship is a great accomplishment for this franchise, but we’re still looking at the bigger picture.”
Clippers: Chauncey Billups (groin) is doubtful. Blake Griffin (calf) practiced Saturday and according to Del Negro is feeling better. “Just a couple of days off and very little today, I think [Griffin] is feeling better.”
Barnes, who is nursing a sprained left ankle, said, “[Saturday was] the first day I really did anything and we really didn’t do too much today. But it feels good and I’ll be ready to go.”
Lakers: Steve Nash (hamstring) is doubtful. Metta World Peace (knee surgery) remains out.
LAST TIME OUT
Clippers 126, Suns 101: The Clippers ended their three-game losing streak by burying the visiting Suns in the third quarter. They scored 38 points, including 21 from DeAndre Jordan and Willie Green combined. Jordan finished with 20 points (eight dunks) and 12 rebounds, while Green matched his season-high with 15 points and Chris Paul added 15 points and 12 assists.
The win, while against the team with the worst record in the West, helped give the Clippers needed momentum heading into their three days off prior to their showdown with the Lakers. They had lost three in a row, including falling behind by 20-plus points in the last two.
Lakers 86, Grizzlies 84: While the Lakers kept their tenuous hold on the No. 8 seed Friday, they also helped the Clippers by dropping the Grizzlies. Still, it did not come easy for the Lakers. Mike Conley missed three shots down the stretch that could have helped seal the game for Memphis and the Lakers survived despite Dwight Howard going just 1-for-2 on his final trip to the foul line with under 10 seconds to go.
Howard finished with nine points and 10 rebounds and Kobe Bryant scored a game-high 24 points with nine assists for the Lakers, who used just seven players in their rotation.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Clippers’ depth. The Clippers’ success has been predicated on their defense and their depth this season. After nearly an extended period in which the bench had struggled since the All-Star break, they seem to be getting back to form. Eric Bledsoe is healthier, Ryan Hollins is emerging as a viable threat behind DeAndre Jordan and Crawford is back to scoring in bundles. They scored 60 points against the Pacers Monday and outscored the Suns two days later.
Against a Lakers team that uses just seven (sometimes eight) rotation players, the Clippers’ ability to come in waves could be especially important.
“A huge factor,” Crawford said of the bench in Sunday’s game. “I think even last night [against Memphis] Kobe got a little tired. And that’s normal. I think we can use that to our advantage, just getting up and down the court and continuing to try and pick up the pace.”
Bryant has averaged 38 minutes per game in the last 10 games and has upped that to 41.7 minutes in three games against the Clippers. He’s scored 32.7 points per game in those outings as well despite multiple defenders from Caron Butler, Green, Barnes and Crawford being thrown at him.
“Kobe’s handling the ball a lot more, being a playmaker and picking and choosing his time to score,” Barnes said. “We just have to be aggressive with him and if he goes off we’ve just got to try and control everybody else.”
Del Negro said that the pace of the game will be important for the Clippers. In three games against the Lakers, the Clippers have averaged 21.7 points off turnovers and 16.7 fast-break points.
“Spacing is very important and the pace of the game obviously very important,” he said. “But we’ve got to play our pace and it’s nothing that we haven’t worked on.”
The new-look old Lakers. The Lakers will utilize their fourth different starting lineup in four games this season against the Clippers with World Peace sidelined. If Nash does not play, Steve Blake will likely start at point guard.
Despite the topsy-turvy lineup, the Lakers are 15-7 since the All-Star break. Del Negro thinks that was only a matter of time.
“Teams need time together,” he said. “Obviously, Dwight’s feeling better. We’ve just got to understand what it takes to win and how we’re going to win.”
Howard has more 20-point, 10-rebound games than anyone in the NBA since 2004-05 (84)… If the Clippers lose they can still clinch the division with a Golden State loss later in the day. The Warriors play the Jazz in Oakland Sunday night... The best record the Clippers have earned in a series against the Lakers since moving to Los Angeles is 3-2… The average margin of victory in the previous three meetings between the two teams: 13 points per game… The Clippers are averaging 10 3-pointers per game against the Lakers this season, shooting 45.5% overall.